The popularity of Ambien comes from its reputation as a supposedly safe alternative to other tranquilizers. Barbiturates like Seconal and Nembutal were once widely used to promote sleep, but because these drugs have a high risk of addiction and fatal overdose, they are rarely prescribed today. Benzodiazepines like Ativan and Valium are prescribed for insomnia on a short-term basis, but they are believed to have more severe side effects and a greater potential for dependence than Ambien.
But Ambien is not a completely harmless drug, especially when it’s used for non-medical reasons. Ambien abuse can cause a number of adverse side effects, not just in the hour or two after you ingest it, but also for weeks or even years afterwards. As a central nervous system depressant, zolpidem affects neurological activity and vital functions by altering the brain’s response to GABA, a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for making you feel sleepy and calm. Because Ambien also slows down your breathing and heart rate, misusing the drug puts you at risk of respiratory failure, unconsciousness and death.
Zolpidem is a rapid-onset hypnotic prescribed to people who have trouble falling sleep. In users who take the medication appropriately under a doctor’s care, Ambien causes drowsiness within 15 to 30 minutes. In users who abuse the medication by taking more than the prescribed dose or taking it in unsafe ways, the sedative effects take the form of a euphoric, hallucinogenic high. This medication is manufactured and dispensed in oral tablets, but among recreational users, the pills are often inhaled nasally in a powder form. When dissolved in liquid, zolpidem can also be injected intravenously.
Immediately after abusing Ambien, you are at risk of a serious, potentially fatal allergic reaction causing shortness of breath, airway obstruction, severe nausea and vomiting. More common immediate side effects may include:
- Extreme sleepiness
- Loss of balance
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of consciousness
The risks of Ambien abuse are magnified when you take the drug with alcohol, benzodiazepines or other sedatives that depress the central nervous system. A 2011 article published in the American Journal of Therapeutics stated that patients who were treated in emergency rooms for an Ambien overdose were more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit if they had also ingested alcohol or other prescription drugs. Patients who had overdosed on zolpidem alone were less likely to require intensive care.
Ambien abuse can cause a number of negative side effects in the days or weeks after you take the drug. One of the most disturbing short-term risks of Ambien use is retrograde amnesia. After taking Ambien, some users have reported that sleepwalking, eating, making telephone calls, driving or making love while using the drug. The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry presents several case studies of zolpidem users who suffered psychiatric side effects after using Zolpidem, including:
- Sensory disturbances
- Delusional thinking
- Nocturnal eating
Taking more than the recommended dose of zolpidem increases your risk of short-term complications. In the days after you use the drug, you may feel sluggish, tired, confused and foggy-headed. You may feel depressed or anxious, and — paradoxically — you might have trouble sleeping. Visual disturbances, nightmares, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts have also been reported.
Long-Term Health Problems
A controversial study in the British Medical Journal indicated that people who took hypnotic prescription drugs, including Ambien, are approximately five times more likely to die prematurely than people who don’t take sleep aids. The proposed causes of death included motor vehicle accidents, respiratory problems, heart disease, suicide and some forms of cancer. However, critics of the study claimed that it was inconclusive.
The most common long-term risks of Ambien abuse are dependence and addiction. When used safely and appropriately, Ambien is taken for no more than four weeks. Recreational users are in danger of suffering withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking the drug without a doctor’s care. Sleeplessness, anxiety, headaches, muscle pain, nausea, tremors and convulsions may occur if you try to quit Ambien or reduce the dose on your own. For heavy users, quitting zolpidem could even cause seizures.
If you need help recovering from Ambien abuse, the personalized treatment programs at Black Bear Lodge can give you the support you need to clear the drug safely from your system. After the detox phase, our comprehensive rehab program will prepare you for a healthier, more positive future. If you’re ready to reach out, we’re here to guide you through the recovery process.